A Songbird’s discordant voice

This is a compelling interjection I am making after reading Asia’s Songbird Regine Velasquez’s remark insulting the intelligence of Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin when the latter said that the Philippines and China must not go to war over some kind of shellfish, but that China should just pay for it.

The bone of contention here is actually about the giant clams being harvested by China with impunity in the Scarborough Shoal (Panatag Shoal), which the Philippines claims to be part of its territory. Note that this is the same controversial shoal that used to be the rich source of livelihood and haven for Filipino fishermen during inclement weather until China took control of it, claiming it as belonging to their territorial waters in the South China Sea (SCS).

Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin

“I am not going down in history as a clam defender, okay? It’s a complaint; we’re looking into it; but these are just fucking food; no one goes to war for clams (maybe Oysters of Locquemariaquer) but they just happen to be OUR food. They should pay for them like in fish market,” Locsin said.

This of course did not sit well for Velasquez especially that it sounded to her more like a sick joke coming from an intelligently irrepressible Locsin. I don’t think she has a clear knowledge of who Locsin is really.

“Ang akala ko pa naman matalino ka. Ako ay simpling tao lamang na may simpleng pagiisip,” Velasquez said in a tweet on Friday. (And I thought you were smart/clever. I am just a simple person with simple thoughts.)

“These people are invading our territory they are not just taking food sinisira nila ang ating karagatan!!!!” (…. they are destroying our seas!!!), she added.

Well, the reality is that having “simple thoughts” is what makes war, and that is precisely what Locsin is trying to avoid knowing both the economic and military might of China that our country is being subjected to.

Thus, it is best for the Songbird of Asia to just concentrate on what she does best and leave the diplomatic tussle to the knowledgeable. Her discordant voice in foreign relation is distasteful and therefore unwelcome, more so that her rhetoric has no basis at all.

Former Pres. Benigno Aquino

The fact is that had the Aquino government in 2012 handled the Scarborough Shoal controversy against China with utmost prudence, the rich fishing ground of Panatag Shoal could still have been accessible to our fishermen today. Note that the shoal has also been the fishing grounds of Chinese fishermen and there existed a ‘peaceful coexistence’ between them until the Philippine Navy surveillance ship started flexing its muscles and ordered their sailors to board eight Chinese fishing vessels anchored in the shoal’s lagoon. They tried to arrest the Chinese fishermen for illegal fishing and “harvesting endangered marine species.” However, two China Maritime Surveillance (CMS) ships come to their rescue creating a standoff.

What made the standoff even unwise is when then President Aquino ordered the frigate BRP Gregorio del Pilar, a newly refurbished warship from the US Coast guard, to the area to confront the Chinese at Panatag.

What happened next was that more CMS ships entered the shoal, bringing with them a flotilla of 31 Chinese fishing boats and 50 dinghies. The number of CMS vessels in the days that followed increased to 10.

Outwitted, the the BRP Gregorio del Pilar left on the pretext that it was going “to replenish fuel and food provisions” in its base in La Union.But why send a warship when CMS vessels are officially civilian, part of its Ministry of Transport’s Maritime Safety Administration?

Since then no Filipino ship or fishing vessel has been able to enter the shoal, now occupied by CMS vessels and Chinese fishing boats. The Chinese imposed a 15-nautical mile restriction perimeter around the shoal, and prevents any vessel from going into the shoal’s lagoon.

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What hope?

I understand the continuing concern the opposition has about the impunity over how China developed, occupied and militarized the West Philippine Sea (WPS). This, even after the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) in The Hague, Netherlands, overwhelmingly favored the Philippines in its 2016 decision on the disputed waters of the South China Sea, of which the WPS is part of, ruling that there was no legal basis for China to claim historic rights to resources within the sea areas falling within the ‘nine-dash line’.

The tribunal furthermore found China had violated the Philippines’ sovereign rights in those waters by interfering with its fishing and petroleum exploration and by constructing artificial islands which are being used now for military purposes.

But if one looks at the events leading to China’s massive development and eventual occupation and militarization of the WPS with an open mind, it must have been and continue to be the concern also of all Filipinos including President Rodrigo Duterte who assumed office while the country waited with bated breath at the PCA’s verdict.

Thus, I find it quite unsavory and unfair that to this day Duterte continues to be at the receiving end of verbal tirades from different parties opposing the president for not doing anything against China’s incursion in the WPS.

Not only that. Now former foreign secretary Albert del Rosario, former ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales, and a group of fishermen have filed a complaint with the International Criminal Court (ICC), that also sits in The Hague in the Netherlands, against Chinese President Xi Jinping and some Chinese officials of crimes against humanity for what the PCA described as “severe harm to the coral reef environment and violated its obligation to preserve and protect fragile ecosystems and the habitat of depleted, threatened, or endangered species”.

As if equating this accusation against Xi to crimes against humanity, which are certain acts that are deliberately committed as part of a widespread or systematic attack directed against any civilian or an identifiable part of a civilian population, is not ridiculous enough, now comes Vice President Leni Robredo chiming in, saying, that she appreciated the bold steps taken by del Rosario and Morales “for it added to the hope of Filipinos, that we have the courage to stand up to a giant like China.”

What hope is Robredo talking about?

If the most powerful nation, the U.S.A., and its Western allies, has not been able to rebuke and deter China’s hegemonic ambition in the area and China has no respect for the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) nor has it accepted or acknowledged the judgment rendered by the PCA, declaring the ruling in fact as “ill-founded” and “naturally null and void”, what would make Duterte’s critics believe that the ICC has the authority and wherewithal to abrogate China’s predominance in the disputed area when it is not even a member of the organization?

Water security

 

While Manila is suffering from acute water supply problem, we in Metro Cebu seem to be thanking God that the same is not happening to us here. At least not yet, comparably.

But thanking God is not enough, and not even prayers can readily remedy a distressing problem such as water shortage if and when such forbidding dilemma befalls us.

It behooves on us all, therefore, not to take things for granted about our seemingly ample supply of water because the adverse effect of climate change, low rainfall, high population density and over allocation of water supply are becoming footprints of how miserable life would be if there will be no government intervention.

Water security should be the concern of government, both national and local, to include all citizens and every existing public and private organizations. We have common interest to have the ability to access sufficient quantities of water to maintain adequate standards of food and goods production, proper sanitation, sustainable health care and all other benefits it could contribute to humans and animals.

People should understand that the most common threat to water security is water scarcity. There are few resources, if any, more vital to life than water. Whether it be drinking water, or water in our homes for bathing, flushing, brushing out teeth and cleaning dishes, not one day goes by that we don’t need and use water.

Needless to say that unlike before when climate was predictable and where there was an abundance of water supply that would sustain us through the summer months, now potable water is getting to be a necessity and no longer a luxury to be just wasted and washed down the drain.

It is along this looming bleak scenario that I am writing this article and complimenting the National Water Resource Board (NWRB), a government agency that is responsible for all the water resources in the Philippines, for approving the Policy Guidelines for Metro Cebu, under Board Resolution No. 004-0507, where, among other things, there will be a moratorium on the acceptance and processing of water permit applications in portions of the areas of Consolacion, Liloan, Cebu City, Mandaue City and the whole area of Mactan Island, where the condition of the groundwater has reached critical level.

Another threat to our water security, which gratefully NWRB is addressing also by regulating all water-related activities, is the rising salinity level in said areas due to salt water intrusion. Not only is salt water intrusion exacerbated by sea-level rise but its most common causes, it is said, is the unregulated and/or excessive groundwater extraction by unscrupulous people for different money-making purposes.

Being a resident of Mandaue City, I could not be more appreciative to NWRB‘s effort in upholding its agency’s vision and mission for the good of the country and its people.

Anti-burning law

 

I am writing about this law, also known as Republic Act (RA) 9003, not because I am averse to it but simply wanting to clear doubts in my mind, and I am sure in the minds of many, whether or not this law was crafted with utter reasonableness and fairness for all concerned.

This has to do of course with the harsh penalty being imposed where people found violating it are penalized with imprisonment of one to 15 days and a corresponding fine of P300 to P1000.

For people that are irresponsibly utilizing their backyard as an incineration dump, meaning burning garbage of all kinds and emitting smoke and obnoxious smell that tend to inconvenience the neighbors or the community as a whole, then by all means implement the law to the fullest for one is dealing with an abusive person showing disrespect and disregard for other people’s well being.

But for many who has been religiously following the local government’s instructions and admonitions about the importance of solid waste segregation and patiently look forward to timely scheduled collections and even have a small space in the yard for composting, yet burns scraps of paper and some fallen leaves every now and then for a few minutes so that the smoke will drive pesky fruit tree insects away, is it reasonable and fair that the penalty still applies to them?

So I understand that burning a pot full of dried leaves every now and then still generate smoke that is bad for the health and the environment, but why are the ubiquitous outdoor barbecue grill eateries exempted from the anti-burning law when these popular and much sought after style of cooking food equally generates smoke and pollutes the air? It is even worse because while in the garden one tends to move around skirting the smoke, in outdoor grilled eateries the smoke is all over the place that one can’t avoid being exposed to it. Drippings of fat produce that taste inducing flavor, but the smoky smell that contains polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) not only sticks to ones clothes, skin and hair but its toxic property can also damage the lungs.

Therefore, unless and until the government authority tasked to monitor and implement the anti-burning law is able to publicly issue an explanation or justification as to why any smoky barbecue joint is exempted, sadly, RA 9003 shall always be deemed selective, unreasonable and unfair that, at best, it should be rescinded and restudied again.

 

The incredible rescue and amazing power of meditation

 

The world have seen the incredibly daring but successful mission of saving the 12 boys and their soccer coach trapped in the Tham Luang cave for 18 days, when they were exploring it after a soccer practice session and it became flooded by monsoon rains.

The plight of the boys and their coach, who called themselves the Wild Boars, has captivated not only Thailand, but much of the world – from the heart-wrenching news that they were missing, to the first flickering video taken by a pair of British divers of the cold, anxiously smiling yet calm, dirty and emaciated figures sheltering on a pitch-black ledge surrounded by water and even to the dismaying possibility that the rescue could take months if the monsoon persists exacerbating flooding inside the treacherous cavern.

This was nine days later after being unheard of and their location was about two miles of narrow, flooded passageways from the main entrance. Indeed this was a hell of a place to be in, especially for someone who does not know how to swim.

Efforts to pump water out began immediately as authorities tried to take advantage of a break in monsoon rains.

It was reported that in three stages divers ventured into the claustrophobic caverns to retrieve two boys at a time, giving them a full-face mask for oxygen and tying them with a rope. Each boy was accompanied by two divers, one holding the youngster and a second air tank, while another followed behind. The boys were also given anti-anxiety medication to prevent them from panicking as they were carried and pushed through narrow crevices.

At least 13 specialist divers and 5 Thai Navy Seals were sent in to escort the boys and their coach out.

What an incredible and skillful rescue effort in a perilous situation involving a group of helpless, adventurous individuals in the service for humanity!

But that is not all there is to it.

What makes the whole heroic event also amazingly miraculous is the fact that the boys and their coach were able to survive the 9 harrowing days without food and perhaps, unknowingly, a depleting air for breathing, not to mention the uncertainty of the purity of dripping water being drank.

There is no doubt that credit should go to the coach, Ekapol Chanthawong, 25, who, earlier in his life trained as a Buddhist monk for 12 years before he decided to coach the Wild Boars soccer team.

Needless to say that it was meditation performed individually upon instruction of the coach that got the team through in what has started to be their calvary.

​For Buddhists, meditation is a go-to when distressed or in danger.

Meditation is a type of mental training that can increase your focus and compassion for others, among a wide range of other benefits. It calms you by slowing down your heart rate, your breathing and your metabolism, while decreasing cortisol levels, oxygen utilization and carbon dioxide emission. Cortisol is a steroid hormone released by the adrenal glands.

No wonder, therefore, that despite the odds the members of the Wild Boars team were facing, they all showed amazing disposition.

 

Duterte’s decision to close Boracay

Perhaps one can say that this piece is already water under the bridge since President Rodrigo Duterte has already approved the recommendation of the three government agencies, namely, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), Department of Tourism (DOT), and Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) to close the resort island of Boracay for six months.

The description by no less than the president of the famed place as “cesspool” indeed decidedly put a halt to the influx of tourist to the place.

“You go into the water, it’s smelly. Smells of what? Sh*t,” he had said.

Pretty strong and unfavorable words for the local government and stakeholders, but they all had it coming.

I am not writing this to discuss the inadequacies and ineptness of those governing and running their private entities while thinking only of the windfall of earnings they can make at the expense of the tourist who simply wants to experience fun in the Philippines, and the much talked about Boracay in particular, for this issue has received quite a beating already.

But it is perhaps proper and timely to mention here that the shortcomings, the myopic vision, and the vested interests of their own concerns took a toll on the environment, which is an important facet of tourism.

What I want to talk about, therefore, which certainly is not water under the bridge, is in the context of the urgency and necessity of the Boracay closure.

We must admit that the problems that caused embarrassment to Boracay, famous for its powdery white sand and shallow azure water, did not happen overnight, or to put it straightforward, during Duterte’s presidency.

It has been reported that Boracay’s degradation has been blamed on the failure of the local government to enforce ordinances on marine conservation, garbage and sanitation, and zoning and construction, among others.

Also, that at least 300 hotels, resorts and inns have been ignoring an ordinance that requires them to build their own sewage and wastewater treatment facilities. They have instead been dumping waste into canals meant only for rainwater and surface overflow.

Another upsetting revelation is that four of the nine wetlands on the island, meanwhile, are occupied by a shopping mall, a hotel and around 100 illegal settlers.

Talking about impunity by both the governing body and the governed!

While past administrations acted like the three proverbial monkeys exemplifying the proverbial principle of “see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil”, Duterte used his leadership and political will to make a difference in Boracay.

After all, it is the long range plan of sustaining the grandeur of Boracay for the country’s tourism industry that matters most.

 

Genital-breathing turtle on the verge of extinction

I find the story of this species of turtle worth recording, while it is still around, for its unique appearance and peculiar ways. Its freakishness is what makes it worth saving.

Imagine, where else in the animal kingdom could one find a member that exhibits a very bizarre way of breathing using specialized glands in their cloacas—organs that are used for both excretion and mating and which allows it to stay submerged in water for up to 72 hours?

Indeed, the Mary River turtle, as it is called, does not only have a weird way of breathing, but it is also described as having a piercing gold eyes, ‘green hair’ and fleshy barbs on its neck and a tail that can grow to exceptional lengths – that is up to 70 percent longer than the length of its shell.

The gentle turtle’s scientific name is Elusor macrurus and the ‘hairs’ on its head are vertical strands of algae, which makes it look like a swimming patch of grass, the result of staying submerged in water for long hours.

Measuring up to 40cm, the turtle is said to take a long time to mature sexually, rarely mating before the age of 25.

They prefer to dwell in well-oxygenated, flowing sections of streams, known as riffles, though they are sometimes found in deeper pools.

It is because of its gentle/docile nature that the Mary River turtle was kept as a pet in Australia in the 1960s and 70s.

During that period, it was estimated that around 15,000 Mary River turtle eggs were sold to pet shops every year, and the unchecked raiding of the animal’s nests played a large part in driving the turtle towards extinction.

According to the Australian Zoo, Mary River turtles are also threatened by habitat degradation, which includes “problems such as a deterioration of water quality through riverside vegetation being cleared, water pollution through siltation, agricultural chemical contamination and water flow disruptions through the construction of weirs for irrigation and predation.”

As its name suggest, the Mary River turtle lives only in the flowing streams of the Mary River in Queensland, Australia.

Unfortunately the turtle is also at number 29 on the new official list of the most endangered reptiles in the world.